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North Charleston Flood Expo Improves Communication

Aug 28, 2018 | News

About 75 residents of neighborhoods around Filbin Creek participated in the North Charleston Flood Expo at Felix C. Davis Community Center July 10, 2018 learning how they can prepare their homes and property while also helping flood map scientists and city staffers better understand their needs and concerns.

The exposition format promoted interaction, as residents streamed through exhibits set up by university researchers, North Charleston city staff members, state and federal agencies, and private businesses. The route started with an opportunity for residents to share flooding experiences and ended with a chance to suggest possible solutions.

Some comments written on easel pads alerted city officials to trouble spots: “Runnymede pond has issues. Overflows into neighborhood.” Some offered steps that could make a difference: “Put fencing along creek to prevent trash from washing in and causing blockages.”

Local residents gathered information, and shared personal experiences, at the North Charleston Flood Expo. Photo by Lee Bundrick, S.C. Sea Grant Consortium.

As they completed a survey at the end of the route, many of the residents said they gained knowledge about flood preparation and resilience, and they especially appreciated that researchers and city officials listened to their individual concerns. Several said they liked that people were talking with each other rather than at each other.

“This is the best thing like this I’ve come to in years,” said Andy Kingston, a long-time North Charleston resident. “I learned a lot from the maps and the meteorologist. And I’m going to go home and read some of the things I picked up.”

Butch Barfield, North Charleston’s Emergency Preparedness Coordinator, was especially excited about the multiple avenues of communication at the expo, which was organized by the city, the S.C. Sea Grant Consortium, and the Charleston Resilience Network. City officials have battled with flood concerns for years, especially since portions of the city were inundated by tropical storm-related flooding each of the past three years.

“The best part of this is neighbors coming out and talking with us,” Barfield said. “You need to embrace listening to establish trust.”

Staff members from the city police, fire, engineering, and planning departments also learned from other exhibitors, Barfield said. City departments will use the information gathered at the event to improve flood resilience in the Filbin Creek watershed.

The S.C. Department of Insurance, Federal Emergency Management Agency, and Anderson Insurance Associates offered information on flood insurance. Researchers from the College of Charleston Lowcountry Hazards Center provided detailed inundation maps. Jared Smith, founder of @chswx, detailed ways to track meteorological conditions that lead to extreme rainfall.

The original goal of the expo was to gather anecdotal flooding data from residents to help ground-truth flood mapping tools being created by Norm Levine, director of the Lowcountry Hazards Center, housed at the College of Charleston. That effort is funded by a National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration regional coastal resilience grant obtained through the S.C. Sea Grant Consortium on behalf of the Charleston Resilience Network.

Residents looked at maps created to show flooding from Hurricane Hugo in 1989 as well as more recent instances and possible future scenarios. They noted instances and locations where the tool had fallen short or overstated the flood’s reach. That will inform tweaks of the tool to improve its accuracy.

The expo empowered North Charleston residents with valuable information and provided data to researchers and staff to enable better decision-making. “In the end, the event moved our community a bit closer to resiliency,” Barfield said.